1. The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin
What it’s about: Calvin Trillin is a staff writer at the New Yorker and expert connoisseur of traditional American cuisines. This book assembles three collections of his best food writing, written in the 1970s as an attempt to rebel against the same old classical French and Italian restaurants that were heralded as haute cuisine. He writes with wit, and a genuine passion for Kansas City barbecue, pizza, and hot dogs. He is a national treasure.
Best enjoyed with: a big, floppy slice from the pizza place around the corner, folded in half and eaten very quickly.
2. Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
What it’s about: Ruth Reichl opens her memoir with a story about her mother, “The Queen of Mold,” that is instantly relatable to anyone who is intimidated by the kitchen. This book takes you through her culinary awakening, from learning to cook at the elbow of her family’s maid to her time spent in a commune in Berkeley in the 1970s, all the way to her time as food critic for the New York Times.
Best enjoyed with: biscuits, fresh out of the oven, split in half, and spread with honey butter.
3. The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
What it’s about: M.F.K. Fisher is the mother of American food writing — and an incredible talent. It was hard to choose just one of her books, but this story of the start of her love affair with French food best showcases her writing prowess and her rapier wit. A classic of the genre.
Best enjoyed with: a handful of tiny, sun-ripened strawberries and a half-dozen bracingly cold oysters.
4. The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten
What it’s about: As the food critic for Vogue, Jeffrey Steingarten has tackled everything haute cuisine, with hilarious results. He made it his mission to conquer his distaste for things he didn’t like — clams, kimchi, Greek food — and handles it with a humor and grace that makes this collection a pleasure to read. We could all learn a little something about stretching our palates from him.
Best enjoyed with: a fresh-baked loaf of pain du levain, some butter, and a sprinkle of sea salt.
5. Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin
What they’re about: Laurie Colwin champions the kind of food that we all really want to eat: simple and comforting, made with basic ingredients, some invested time, and love. Tackling subjects from cooking for one to the dinner party disaster, with recipes written in the voice of a friend perched on a stool in your kitchen, these books are best read with a pen in hand, to make a grocery list for what you’ll want to cook.
Best enjoyed with: a simple dish of hot buttered noodles, dressed with parsley, and a hint of cheese.